Bill T. Jones takes on Lincoln

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On a dreary, gray day in March 2008, choreographer Bill T. Jones spoke to a small group of well-wishers in the home of businesswoman Desiree Rogers on Chicago’s Near North Side. Jones took the floor to discuss his assignment to create a full-length dance-theater piece about Abraham Lincoln for the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Ill.

“I want to feel Lincoln in this very room,” he said, looming in the hush that followed as a momentary conjurer or even seance medium. “I want to get some sense of his actual presence among us right here and now.”

The room was hot with possibilities, not just artistic ones. Then-Sen. Barack Obama had stood in the same rooms months earlier at the start of his campaign, though the nomination was not yet won. And Jones’ “Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray” premiered recently at Ravinia, an arena Jones once considered the epitome of an establishment approval he’d never win.

Now the work is touring, with stops scheduled this week in Santa Barbara and Irvine. Click here to read the story in the Sunday Arts & Books section.


-- Sid Smith